It’s my first Christmas being alone, really alone. Last Christmas I was living with my father, and although he was the eternal pessimist, I was not alone. This Christmas – which I refer to as the long drift between Thanksgiving and New Years – I am by myself in my farmette. No Christmas tree. No candles in the windows. A couple stockings I purchased last year from a quaint gift shop hang from a pair of wall sconces. Fir and holly enliven a couple vases, and a friend of mine, with all her ingenuity and generosity, brought a roomful of crafting supplies in which I dissected and created what is actually a very beautiful, artificial wreath. It hangs in the kitchen.
For anyone going through anything, the holidays can be the worst part of the year. I’ve always recognized the hype of Christmas, all the manipulations of the retailers. Christmas has become a general scourge to society. All the so-called responsibilities required to make it perfect. The cards, the baking, the parties, and the gifts, gifts, gifts. The worse part about the gifts being we are told what to purchase instead of purchasing from the heart; and then, the question of whether we bought enough. Westerners show love through their pocketbook, right? You didn’t buy me enough, which means you mustn’t love me. A friend of mine proclaimed with a grimace, shortly after Thanksgiving how much she loathed the entire preparation and drama which was Christmas. The entire ‘ordeal,’ as she called it, left her exhausted and depressed.
I prepared myself to be depressed, to sink into the darks hollows of self pity; and I cried for a short while. But then something very unusual happened. I stopped crying and realized this is the first time in a very long time in which I had the opportunity to make Christmas exactly what I wanted it to be. Of course the depressing thought of being alone crept in, but that thought was overpowered by a far greater realization. A week earlier, the Thursday evening lecture at the Baltimore Shambhala Center involved the idea of ‘living in the now.’ The speaker introduced the thought of enjoying a beautiful sunset. He mentioned that the first thought in regard to the sunset would be, “wouldn’t this be perfect if I had someone to share this beauty? It just doesn’t feel right alone.” He followed the statement by saying, if someone was with him, it still wouldn’t be perfect, either because she’d probably fall asleep, want to talk, or just didn’t have the same level of appreciation.
Hmmm. .. Could it be we are so brain-washed into believing we are failures if we are alone on Christmas? Can we not enjoy the day as any other, without attachment? Is it possible to see the beauty in that day without another? I wager that most of us will not be alone all Christmas Day. Most of us will be seeing our children, friends, and some family members….but we may be waking up alone to that awkward stillness. My god, how are we to handle it? How am I to handle it?
I met a wonderful lady in her late thirties yesterday. She is a transplant from Philadelphia and has been living across the street from me for the past three months. The incident which led to our meeting is humorous, and describes, as I have read many times, that the Universe works to our benefit and that there are no coincidences in our lives. Trust me, if you start to understand that there are no coincidences, the thread of truth and of purpose begins to unravel before your eyes and you begin, very gradually, to see that the divine is pure love and goodness. You begin to understand, if you can weed through all the physical/emotional clutter, that every action is perfect and that the Universe/God whatever you want to call the divine, is speaking and leading you towards a better life.
Thursday Baltimore received about two inches of snow. For the Baltimoreans, two inches may as well been twelve. Everything fell to a standstill and I decided, after a short shopping excursion with my older daughter, that I was going to avoid the traffic chaos and instead, bake gingerbread men. The problem occurred when I arrived home and discovered I did not own a gingerbread man cut-out. Not to worry! I’ll just walk across the street, introduce myself to the nice old man I see from time to time, and ask if I could borrow a gingerbread man cookie cutter.
It so happened the nice old man was outside working on his car when I walked up, stuck out my hand, introduced myself, and asked if I could borrow his gingerbread man cookie cutter. He laughed as he informed me he wasn’t sure where his wife ‘hid’ the cookie cutters, but he’d do his best. Shortly thereafter, he returned with a gingerbread man, and a tin soldier cutout which resembled an alien, and informed me that the nicest lady was renting part of his home and I should introduce myself.
So, another single woman in my midst? How wonderful for me…and for her. I decided I get around to knocking on her door over the next couple weeks, but as fate would have it, when I returned the cookie cutters on Saturday, the nice lady coincidentally was fumbling through her car in some sort of desperate search. I took the opportunity, introduced myself, and invited her to coffee that evening. She was absolutely thrilled by the offer and we had the most wonderful conversation. It is so therapeutic to open yourself to other people. Sometimes we become so attached to our own woes, that we fail to recognize the suffering of others. Here is a soul, thirty-nine years old, who has never had a long-term relationship, a soul that has just about given up on love and dreaming. Here is someone who is falling asleep earlier and earlier every night because she is so lonely and lost. And then there’s me, I’ve experienced several, long-term relationships. Although I have yet to fall deeply and truly in love with a man, I have experienced marriage and motherhood. I have children who come to visit; and I made the choice to be alone.
We both began chattering about the Universe and meditation, positive thinking, the “I want” no-no, and a dozen other topics. We laughed and decorated the last of the gingerbread men. We both realized that the most important goal in our lives was to love ourselves, but society places so much emphasis on our worthiness based upon who loves us. Truth is, if we are always judging ourselves by this outside love, we will never, ever be satisfied. We both admitted that we have changed ourselves to suit the man we are dating; and laughed with the realization that men don’t care to change anything. They are what they are.
Why is that? What the hell is with that anyway? How has the retailers, our schools, our parents, our society as a whole manipulated women to make them feel that they must attract the man, that we need approval? I realize I keep going back to these topics, but it is such a thorn in our souls. The truth is no matter how much I would enjoy having a man in my life at the moment, I don’t want to feel any inhibition in regard to who I am. I don’t want to change for him or have to fight the temptation not to change. I don’t want that internal struggle. I need to love this flesh and bone and my spirit first and foremost.
The nice lady made an analogy to a recovering alcoholic. First rule – no relationships for at least a year. She mentioned that the first living thing a recovering alcoholic should attach him or herself to is a plant. If the plant is alive in three months, they can advance to a pet. If the pet is thriving in a year, it’s time to date.
The problem with women is that we so often believe we need a man to define who we are, a man who will protect, encourage, love and have compassion for all our internal suffering and conflicts. The hard truth is that no man, no matter how wonderful or doting, can cure our pain. We must cure it ourselves. We must realize the beauty which abounds us, beauty which is not dependent on our situation. We must look outside ourselves and see the illusions in which society has created for the perfect holiday, the perfect family, the perfect man.
I’m thinking Christmas is going to be just fine. I’m going to awake, turn on the radio, and make myself a fine breakfast. My brother and my girls are coming over for dinner, so I’ll spend the day cooking. I’ll practice my guitar and maybe work on the two novels I have belabored for over fourteen years. I may paint the kitchen or paint a terracotta pot. Maybe I’ll paint my nails. Or maybe, I’ll volunteer somewhere for a couple hours and understand the desperation and hopelessness which plagues many of my fellow human beings. Oh…the most important devotion of that day will be gratitude. I will begin the day reflecting on all for which I am grateful instead of what is not “perfect.”